Contemptuous Behaviour: Enforcing Injunction Orders

It can be incredibly frustrating when dealing with a particular tenant, or family, who simply refuse to pay attention to repeated warnings about their behaviour or breaches of tenancy.  

We‘re all familiar with the next steps: go legal, get a warning letter, seek an injunction and maybe agree an undertaking. The less familiar stage is in deciding what to do if a particularly disobedient tenant, or tenants, won‘t comply with the injunction order or undertaking.

Contempt, also known as ‘committal‘, is the traditional way of enforcing breaches of an Injunction Order, though contempt can also be used to enforce breaches of an undertaking given by a Respondent.   

The rules around contempt proceedings can be found in Part 81 of the Civil Procedure Rules, and usually require an application to be in the same proceedings that an Injunction was Ordered. The exception to this is that contempt proceedings can be triggered automatically if an arrest for breach of injunction is made by the police.  

The proceedings will run in a similar way to the injunction claim, and there will usually be a substantive hearing for the Applicant to prove the breaches of the Order or undertaking. If the Applicant is successful, the Respondent will be found ‘in contempt‘, and receive a sentence which might include a fine, seizure of assets and/or a custodial sentence in prison.   

An application for contempt of court can be made upon breach of any kind of injunction including ASB, housing management or breach of tenancy injunctions; however, this doesn‘t mean that committal is always the best option. 

In an anti-social behaviour (ASB) case where the perpetrator continues to breach their Injunction Order by saying abusive things to their neighbour, contempt proceedings might be the ideal enforcement tool to punish the perpetrator for behaviour which they know is forbidden.   

However, in a case where an injunction is obtained to require the tenant to give access to the property: contempt proceedings will do very little. The Court simply won’t make a custodial sentence in this type of case, and any fine or seizure of assets is unlikely to be fruitful for the overall goal of gaining access.  

The other key consideration is whether or not there is strong enough evidence. Contempt of court proceedings use the criminal standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt) which is more difficult to meet than the civil standard of proof that we’re used to. This means that clear and direct evidence will be needed to prove the breaches, and hearsay evidence and evidence from anonymous witnesses will carry less weight. 

In circumstances where contempt is unsuitable, and the breaches of tenancy continue, your organisation will want to consider alternatives which meet the holistic requirements of that tenant or community. This may include possession proceedings or a variation of the injunction that was originally sought.  

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